For the last few weeks, we have been talking about how the average follower of Jesus can prepare for the important moments in her or his life of devotion. We first talked about how to prepare for worship, emphasizing the importance of daily spiritual discipline, self-awareness, and proper focus. Next, we talked about preparing for preaching. We noted that those who receive preaching must also prepare, and we noted that regular prayer, consistent thought about issues that matter, and the reading of books and articles all play a role in helping us prepare to receive the message that God wants to deliver through the preacher.
There is one other important part of a disciple’s life that we need to talk about, and it is this activity to which we turn our attention in this blog. I am talking about service. The habit of serving others is a necessary one for all Christians to develop, not only so that the mechanisms of congregations and parachurch organizations can run efficiently and effectively but also so that individual followers of Jesus can live out the calling that he places on all of our lives. And if our service is to benefit us, our congregation/parachurch organization, and the Kingdom of God, then we need to prepare to serve, just as we prepare to worship and prepare to receive preaching.
Preparing to serve is a process, and the best way to begin that process is by humbling ourselves. Humility can be a difficult concept for us to get our heads around, and it can be a tough sell in a society where self-esteem and self-advancement are seen as the birthright of every person. I do not feel like I have any special insight into the precise nature of humility or any particular skill in defending its utility. Perhaps that is because I have had so much difficulty practicing it myself.
In spite of these challenges, however, I have come to believe that humility is the necessary prerequisite for effective service to God and to our neighbor. Fostering humility does more than reducing the amount of annoyance we cause those around us. It reshapes the way we view ourselves and our world. It creates the fertile soil necessary for love to grow, and it instills a passion within us for self-improvement.
So, how do we go about humbling ourselves? We do not do it by engaging in negative self-talk. That only gives the Enemy a foothold in our hearts—one that he will use to drive a wedge between us and God and to undermine our attempts at service. Rather, we humble ourselves by imitating our Lord’s example of self-denial (cf. Mark 8:34 and parallels). In ways big and small, we must act as if our own interests are less important than the interests of others (cf. Philippians 2:3-4) and of God’s Kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:25-34). Humbling ourselves is not about denigrating our own humanity; it is about elevating the worth of others and celebrating the purposes of God.
Hone Our Skills
Our self-emptying pursuit of humility must be balanced with a dogged devotion to honing our skills for service. All of us have a unique set of vocational skills and avocational interest to offer. Each of these skills has value—whether it is physics or plumbing, crochet or cooking.
But skills have a way of degrading if they are not developed. Moreover, we cannot be the humble, effective servants that Christ wants if we do not give some attention to our craft. Whether we are in construction or dentistry, whether we play football or the flute, we owe it to God to do what we do to the best of our ability.
Making Ourselves Available
Skills also deteriorate when they are not used. So, we need to prepare for service by making ourselves available to serve. Obviously, we will want to serve in our church, but we can also serve in our community or even around the world. That is because so many people and organizations need whatever it is that we have to offer.
In some instances, we will need to get creative about how we offer our service. Some people’s skills (finance, legal, personnel, etc.) have immediate applicability to the life and work of the church, but it can be difficult to see how other skills can have an impact on our church or our community. But with some creativity, and some help from God and our congregation, we can often find a niche that only we can fill.